Hannah Marks is a rising star on the weirdest new show on TV. We called in her friend and fellow actress Rowan Blanchard to talk about about Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and more. At the age of just 23, Marks already has over 10 years of acting experience under her belt; read on for her astute take on mastering the technicalities of the silver screen - and the emotional toll of a career built on becoming other people.
ROWAN BLANCHARD: Where in the world are you?
HANNAH MARKS: I'm in Hollywood! Filming a movie about homeless youth.
ROWAN: Are you from LA? Do you feel weird filming here?
HANNAH: I do, but I'm experiencing it in a different way. It's based on a book I love called Almost Home. The whole plot takes place on this one block in Hollywood. It's so surreal reading the book then filming in those exact locations. It's a different way to experience LA.
ROWAN: Did you do any studying on homeless youth to prepare?
HANNAH: Yeah, I learned that 40% of homeless youth is LGTBQ. The majority of homeless youth is white and black. I read some books like Junkie, and Almost Home. But the thing that helped the most is volunteering at this place called The Center in Hollywood, where I was really just hanging out with people. It's not like I'm just there to observe them, I'm there to hang out. We would play improv games, write together, eat together.
ROWAN: Do you think it's been taking a toll on you personally? Doing something so heavy?
HANNAH: A little. I'm not really a person that gets in bad moods, I'm very consistent with my friends and family but this movie definitely makes me feel like I want to argue more, and I want to physically react to things. I find myself before a scene, punching a wall or hitting myself in the face. It sounds very dramatic but I have to get to that angry point every single day with this film. I'm not an angry person so that's hard for me. I'm opinionated, I get annoyed, but I'm not angry in the way that my character is.
ROWAN: Do you like that challenge? Obviously you feel addicted to it as it's your job?
HANNAH: Definitely, I like the challenge. I'm not the type of person that thinks any type of acting is easy though. I think if your job is easy then you're probably not working hard enough at it. There's always something new to discover and something more that you can do to be better. Every acting job has its own challenge.
ROWAN: I agree with that, you and I both work on comedies and I feel like comedy gets played off - particularly sitcoms or sketches - played off as something that's so childish and easy but it's such a skill. It's difficult.
HANNAH: You have to be so prepared to make something seem effortless. When something looks effortless it means you have to work really hard to get it to that place. Jessica Chastain has this quote along the lines of “do so much work, then once you're on set throw it all away and it'll still be with you”.
ROWAN: Do you feel any escape when you're working on comedy?
HANNAH: Definitely, I feel more present when I'm filming, whether it's comedy or drama. I think that acting helps me stay in the moment, whereas in real life I'm always thinking about the past or the future and I'm very anxious. Acting is the only time I escape into that.
ROWAN: I'm so addicted to that feeling
HANNAH: It's the only time when I'm really honestly listening and not worrying.
ROWAN: You write and direct too, right? When did you realise that was a passion too?
HANNAH: For me acting was just a way to be involved in movies so I always wanted to write, direct, produce. Acting is what I've been doing the last 10 plus years but if I could eventually be doing other things in film too I would love to. I think it just depends on the project. Maybe some projects will be right for me to direct, some projects might be right for me to act in. I'm just seeing where my career takes me. I don't have an interest in being an aging actress. Just cos I think that seems really hard, I see the criticisms that women go through once they hit 40, in this business, and it's brutal. Hopefully that's getting better but I don't want to feel like I'm in an audition room in 20 years time. I don't want to have that feeling any more, I want to be more in control of my life by then.
ROWAN: Can you remember a specific set that you worked on, or specific project you were a part of where you thought you wanted to be behind the camera too?
HANNAH: I first started thinking about that when I did this movie called Accepted, with Justin Long and Jonah Hill. I was 11 or 12 years old, I remember all of the older boys in that movie, Jonah Hill and people who went on to be total legends, doing all this improv. I remember thinking 'why can't I do that?' just cos I'm a young girl. That first sparked the idea. Also working on the show Weeds, because that show was so good and it was the first time I was on a TV show that I really really liked.
ROWAN: Do you feel like being an actress is harder because of the internet or easier?
HANNAH: I think it's harder. I don't honestly like that anyone can google me, or google you, or any actress our age, I think all that stuff shouldn't have to do with it. I think just being a person is hard, and being an actress is hard. It's all relative though.
ROWAN: I experienced that loosely with the whole internet thing, where I walked into a casting room and felt that I did a really good job. The note that they sent over had to do with me being too social. Okay, does that have to do with the fact that I have a social media presence, are you assuming that I can't play a character because of who I am online?
HANNAH: Your giant social media presence, and being on Disney, I can't even imagine that. That's so unfair. You started as an actress to be an actress, and to disappear into a character and you shouldn't be punished for having people that want to listen to you. Sometimes I'll go into an audition and notice that they've printed a picture of me from Google, from years ago and I'll feel, like, humiliated. I feel wrong for the part, I see my puberty, and I carry all this baggage into the room that shouldn't even be a part of it.
ROWAN: That feeling of getting in the way ruins so much
HANNAH: Yeah, it sucks when you get in your head before you do a scene. How people think about you... you have no idea what anyone even knows about you.
ROWAN: In that essence I'm glad I live in a very small world in terms of what I'm exposed to physically. I don't feel like I see everything about me which is really nice. How do you take care of yourself - I'm curious, for myself, because I don't know how to do it yet - how do you go on the internet without being affected by every horrible thing you see?
HANNAH: Honestly, I don't know if I've figured that out yet. I think sometimes I just turn off and scroll mindlessly. What I do a lot of the time is save things, and read them at a time when I'm mentally prepared to take on all the information.
ROWAN: How did you adjust after Dirk Gently came out and people started recognising you from the show?
HANNAH: Honestly, I got back from Canada filming Dirk Gently, then went directly into filming this movie I'm doing right now. I bleached my hair blonde, and went through a physical transformation. I've been working since we wrapped, every day, and the only time I've seen the episodes are at home with my family. I don't really know how people are reacting to the show yet which is probably healthy to stay busy. For the first time in my life I clicked on the Dirk Gently hashtag, and it was so so cool to see all the people who were responding to it. I didn't realise that our show was weird, until I got all these tweets saying 'this is the weirdest show on television'. I'm such a weirdo that I didn't even realise the show was considered weird.
ROWAN: Especially when you're in character
HANNAH: Yeah, but then you're like wait a minute, a dog and a cat have lead roles on our show. I forgot that's crazy.
ROWAN: Obviously you come from a more movie background - was Dirk Gently your first regular TV slot?
HANNAH: No, I did a TV show when I was 16 called Necessary Roughness. I was living in Atlanta mostly on my own, only working two days a week, so I didn't have much to do. With Dirk Gently I'm really part of the family, it's a wildly different time.
ROWAN: That's so special, I love that.
HANNAH: You did a few movies before Girl Meets World, right?
ROWAN: Yeah, I had done a few movies before Girl Meets World, then making the switch over to television was so weird. It was my first sitcom, I didn't really know how the whole thing worked. Sitcom is so like; cheat out to camera, make your audience laugh - there's such a rule book to it.
HANNAH: Much more technical
ROWAN: Yeah, you would think that movies would be much more so but as far as I’ve experienced - it's strange for me now to be on movie sets and not have to cheat out to camera every single moment. So I'm adjusting.
HANNAH: I totally get that because I was just on Dirk Gently and I was always trying to cheat out to camera, hit my mark, all the perfect technical things - and now I'm doing this movie and they're like 'stop cheating to camera - we want the back of your head!'
ROWAN: Your body, without you really knowing, can get so locked into this rhythm of 'this is where I stand, this is where I cheat' it's this whole step by step process, especially with television.
HANNAH: It's kind of cool though, how much our body retains and how much muscle memory we have and how much our experiences stick with us without even realising it. It really is a blessing if you think about it.
ROWAN: That's deep.
HANNAH: Well I've never thought about it before til you brought it up! Not that cheating the camera is a deep subject but I'm actually impressed with how much we can remember, because it's much easier to un-learn it than to have to learn it.
ROWAN: Were you homeschooled when you were younger, when you were acting?
HANNAH: Yeah I was homeschooled apart from the 10th grade, when I went to a real school. I was convinced I wanted to be a regular kid, and try out regular kid stuff, and then I hated it.
ROWAN: Really?! I'm considering that. I really want to go to one year of regular high school.
HANNAH: Oh, Rowan, I don't want to stop you! Or crush your dreams of going to regular high school but honestly I thought it was horrible. I was miserable doing it.
HANNAH: I'm so sorry! Maybe you'll have a totally different experience! I just found that - I don't know if you're like this - but I have really bad insomnia so when I was going to school I couldn't fall asleep til 4 in the morning, then to get up at 6.30, and then I'd get to school and sleep through my classes. It was a vicious cycle. And I found it hard to make friends because I was so used to making friends in a work environment where you're all making a project together. I didn't know how to socially adapt.
ROWAN: Had you been homeschooled up to that point? That's a long time to be homeschooled.
HANNAH: I went to elementary school, but it's so different. I was convinced that I wanted to go to prom, and have graduation and all those things, and everyone tells you that it's not that great.
ROWAN: I know. Everybody's told me 'don't go to high school cos it's awful'...
HANNAH: I mean, you hear those stories and the people who peak in high school are not the people who peak later in life
ROWAN: That's true, but in my mind that's like John Hughes-y, getting asked to prom...
HANNAH: I totally agree, and I wanted to do that but then I realised it's not like that and if you go to a school dance - everyone's just on drugs. It's not like... everyone's grinding and in the movies you're having a romantic date and having the best time with your friends and there's a getting ready montage. I don't think it's like that.
ROWAN: Instead everybody's twerking and high... aww no.
HANNAH: I'm really sorry! Maybe I'm just really dark because I've been shooting a movie about homeless youth
ROWAN: Maybe it's influencing the interview.
HANNAH: Maybe. You have so many good questions though! Are you 14 or 15 now?
HANNAH: Amazing. I hope you're beyond proud of yourself - I'm blown away by you
ROWAN: Aw, Hannah! Thank you.
HANNAH: I know it's hard to take compliments. But I'm just amazed at how you can talk about intersectional feminism and whatever, Annie Lennox criticising Beyonce, all that shit. I'm blown away by you.
ROWAN: Aw thank you. I feel like I just sit in my room a lot, and just read.
HANNAH: Me too! That's all I do. I hate it when people ask me that question of 'what do you do when you're not working?' I'm on Tumblr and watching Netflix at the same time, that's the honest answer.
ROWAN: It's real. I think that's true because as much fun as it is to play other people, it's also exhausting. It's important to have that down, rest period.
HANNAH: I've gotta recharge my battery, you know? My brain battery. Like you said, it is exhausting playing other people. People forget that it's not just when you're working, it's auditioning too.
ROWAN: Auditioning weirds me out.
HANNAH: Do you ever read and there's something that's against your views, or 'I don't like this'. Do you ever feel that way? ‘This is not me…’
ROWAN: I've not auditioned for things that I feel like I don't even want to learn the lines for, that I don't want to put my time into. As actresses we read a lot, we get a few amazing female roles and the other things are awful.
HANNAH: I think there are two things per year I get really excited about and then a lot of the writing for females out there today is the girl next door, or be scared, be a victim.
HANNAH: The same archetypes over and over again
ROWAN: I feel so uncomfortable when people talk about how it's so amazing to be a woman in the industry. Yeah, there's amazing parts of it but I'm not so sure how far we are along yet...
HANNAH: Totally. No girl in this business is paid the same as any guy - maybe that's not something we should get into but I've noticed that so many men on TV are making so much more than women - if that's not fixed then the roles certainly aren't going to be fixed. Until it's reflected in society it's not going to be reflected in media.
ROWAN: You're absolutely right, there's a lot of change that needs to happen
HANNAH: It's a little intense when you think about it, but then it's nice when you think about all the women who are making things. I just hope people are listening.
ROWAN: I think that's a good thing to end on. People listen please!
HANNAH: I was gonna say I hope we don't sound like two bitching actresses who are just complaining, but now I take that back because we're allowed to have our feelings! Women are trained to apologise for taking up space, sharing feelings, taking up anyone else's time.
ROWAN: It's still - maybe this sounds reductive - but even with projects directed by women, there's still something in my head when I think of 'director', we've been conditioned to think of an angry white male director.
HANNAH: With a baseball hat!
ROWAN: Yeah! I have to keep correcting myself.
HANNAH: People ask oh 'do you like him?' - the director - and I'm like, it's a her. It's the natural pronoun to say 'him'
ROWAN: Yeah - aaagh!
HANNAH: Even when I've directed shorts, I've had a largely male crew. I've noticed that when I'm directing, crew members will roll their eyes at me or question my direction. If it was an older male directing, you wouldn't do that. That's the boss. I've had crew members try and explain to me how it works - a guy on my last short, he was very sweet, but trying to explain to me what recording wild lines were...
HANNAH: And yeah, I've done wild lines on every set I've ever been on. Explaining things to me with the assumption that I don't know. A lot of people aren't trying to be sexist, it's just inherent.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photographer: Zackery Michael
Stylist: Liz McClean
Hair: Blake Erik
Make Up: Min Min Ma using Chanel Beauty